De Bethune has been taking on challenges since 2002, so what new ones are you anticipating between now and 2020 ?
De Bethune must maintain its independence, its mind-set, its vision of watchmaking and design, and protect its roots without giving way to siren’s calls, opting for quantity over quality or becoming a marketing brand. Our watchmaking Manufacture’s respect for tradition and innovation requires a great deal of rigorous care. The inspiration of maestro David Zanetta and Denis Flageollet’s watchmaking genius must continue and we make no concessions at all, whether in terms of technical know-how or in terms of aesthetics or finishing.
Have clients’ expectations changed ?
Of course, clients of niche brands are increasingly demanding. These days we are far from the era when certain people took advantage of their naivety and of easy money. Today, customers pay attention to the sustainability of a brand, to its ability to ensure after-sales service in ten or 20 years, to the intrinsic value of products. In addition, from a certain price level upwards, clients demand exclusivity, be it in terms of design or movement, and they don’t want to see it elsewhere with just a few cosmetic alterations. These are legitimate expectations that De Bethune has long since demonstrated its ability to meet. In 14 years, our Manufacture has also completely designed 19 calibers in-house from start to finish, and a De Bethune watch is instantly recognizable without us needing to specify the name of the brand on the dial.
In 2015, we will be presenting our first GMT caliber, while a large number of other projects will come to fruition in the short, medium or long term.
Finally, clients express a growing need for personalization to which our totally integrated Manufacture can respond very favorably, and as a result we devote more than 10% of our production to one-off pieces.
Which 2015 innovation do you expect to have the best results from a commercial point of view? And which piece are you most proud of ?
To respond to your first question, the reaction of the market to the launch of our first sports model, the DB28GS with a rubber strap and folding clasp which sells for around CHF 70,000 has been very encouraging. This will definitely be our bestseller. In parallel, the DB25 Tourbillon Zodiac has made us very proud: this is one of our most beautiful calibers featuring a tourbillon with jumping seconds and silicon escapement, but above all, the engraving on the dial is quite exceptional. Inspired by 18th century artisanal engraving techniques, its dial is made of gold, steel and titanium adorned with highly refined motifs.
Does De Bethune really need Gaël Monfils to sell watches ?
De Bethune does not need Gaël Monfils to sell watches and Gaël Monfils does not need De Bethune to play tennis. It is simply a personal story between a tennis player who is passionate about watches, who loves De Bethune and the fact that the brand stands out from the crowd, and who in return appreciates this excellent player whose game is so different to that of his peers in tournaments. It is a meeting of minds above all, and we are only at the start of this partnership. We are thinking about developing a piece based on this collaboration, into which our revolutionary silicon/platinum balance wheel with a triple pare-chute system could be incorporated and put to the test of Gaël Monfils’ swing.
R&D represents 10% of our total number of production staff”
TAG Heuer has announced that it is ceasing its high-frequency research. Where is De Bethune in its work on resonics ?
Work is continuing of course, and we continue to share the results of our research on this theme because since the beginning we have published everything on a site that can be accessed by anyone. The investigative scope is very broad and we are making good progress, but from there to establishing a production calendar for a very high frequency model with resonics… This is very fundamental research, which is De Bethune’s raison d’être. Denis Flageolet and his team are constantly exploring new horizons. You know, six people including five engineers working full time on R&D actually represents 10% of our production staff, which is a huge ratio !
Before joining De Bethune, you managed Les Ambassadeurs in Geneva. How do you feel about the retail trade today ?
This trade has undergone a radical change. In 30 seconds and just one click, a client can decide to buy a watch in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. There is no way you can simply wait for him to walk in the door these days. Retailers need to reinvent themselves, offer an irreproachable welcome and watchmaking knowledge that will make clients trust them, otherwise there is no reason at all to go there. Shopping has become international.
If you could do it again, would you re-open your De Bethune boutique in Geneva?
For sure ! De Bethune is undoubtedly the biggest of the small brands. Our boutique in Geneva acts both as a sales and a marketing tool and the image it drives is incomparable. Don’t forget that you need to be present in your country in order to be strong abroad. In addition, although our exclusive production runs at about 350 pieces a year, our retailers rarely have more than ten in the shop. Our boutique allows us to display all our collections. Just this morning, we sold the very last in our DB28 Aiguille d’Or limited series, which celebrated the ultimate accolade received at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2011.